Girls soccer | Young players push Manatee toward district title in win over Pinellas Park

Underclassmen push Manatee toward crown

jlembo@bradenton.comJanuary 16, 2014 

BRADENTON -- They're young. They're prolific.

And they're a big reason why Manatee's girls soccer team is on the cusp of ending a district title drought.

The Hurricanes breezed past Largo Pinellas Park, 8-0, in a Class 5A-District 8 semifinal that ended with nearly 22 minutes left in the second half because of the mercy rule.

Five girls scored for Manatee (12-4-2) on Wednesday. All were underclassmen, including sophomores Jessica Schafer, Brianna Blethen and Meredith Roberts, each of whom knocked in two goals.

Spurred on by their youth movement, the top-seeded Hurricanes cruised into Friday's championship game, which they will host at 7 p.m. against St. Petersburg.

Manatee, which also clinched a spot in next week's region tournament, is looking for its first district title since 1999 and second in program history.

"I thought we were going to be really good, because we have some young and talented players and they just bring a lot to the team," Roberts said. "Everyone's really talented, and we've just known each other...growing up. I think we're really good."

No one inside chilly Hawkins Stadium could've argued Wednesday. Madeline Valadie, another sophomore, got the scoring started during the game's 10th minute when she booted in a rebound off the foot of Sydney Cornell, a freshman who added a goal and two assists herself.

Schafer added one four minutes later before two tallies each from Blethen and Roberts gave Manatee a 6-0 lead heading into half.

Cornell and Schafer scored after the break. Schafer's goal, which came with 21:53 left on the clock, ended it.

"I know these youth players. I coach at the club level, as well, and a lot of the girls I'm familiar with. So I knew the type of talent that we had coming in," said Manatee coach George Ameres. "I knew moving forward after last year into this season, and into the next three years, I know we're going to be solid. And I did expect it."

The Hurricanes didn't allow the fourth-seeded Patriots any shots on goal and kept the ball in Pinellas Park's end of the field for the duration of the second half.

Next up: The second-seeded Green Devils. The teams played to a 1-1 tie Nov. 5 in St. Petersburg before Manatee won the rematch 8-2 on Dec. 3 in Bradenton.

"I felt like this year, even though we are young this year, I thought we had a great chance of winning district," Ameres said. "And I think we can surprise some people in regional play, as well."

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